Text and slideshow are reprinted with permission of Southern Living magazine.
The grande dames of Southern stays, from Greenbrier to Grove Park, are once again au courant thanks to fresh, new makeovers.
Established 1778 in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, The Greenbrier is Dorothy Draper's opus. Nearby, The Homestead, set in the Allegheny Mountains, sits on 3,000 acres and offers 483 guest rooms.
Nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains, the Grove Park Inn was established in 1913, and has had the honor of hosting 10 U.S. Presidents since.
And, further south, in Florida, the Breakers Palm Beach has long been a playground for the well-heeled, offering 540 rooms set on 140 oceanfront acres.
But, here’s what really sets them apart and why they’re worth a return trip.
<strong>Recent nip/tuck</strong>: Since West Virginia billionaire Jim Justice took over this landmark property in 2009, he’s upped the retreat’s ante with the Casino Club, a glamorous gambling room that opened in 2010, complete with a jackets-required dress code and silver-dollar slot machines. The other recent addition—a 26-room VIP wing called the Windsor Club, finished in 2011—has luxurious extras, such as a private bar with complimentary mint juleps. <strong>Resort lore</strong>: Guests can tour a once-secret, never used, 112,544-square-foot underground bunker built in the late 1950s to be a Cold War fallout shelter for the U.S. Congress.
<strong>Signature Style</strong>: It takes upwards of 340 different fabrics to create The Greenbrier’s exuberant interior collage—perhaps the best-preserved legacy of audacious American designer Dorothy Draper. It was her job, in 1946, to convert the resort from a temporary 2,000-bed WWII army hospital back into a luxury retreat for the highest society. Mere pastels could never have completed the mission.
<strong>Claim to fame</strong>: Twenty-six Presidents have visited, plus the Duke and Duchess of Windsor (for whom the new club is named) and Princess Grace of Monaco. In 2010, actress and West Virginian Jennifer Garner attended the grand opening of the Casino Club with her husband, Ben Affleck. <strong>Book this room</strong>: Live like royalty in any of the 26 Windsor Club rooms, which come with canopy beds dressed in Italian linens and access to the Virginia Room, a private lounge with its own (open!) bar. Rooms from $225, Windsor Club rooms from $505; <a href="http://www.greenbrier.com">greenbrier.com</a>
<strong>Recent nip/tuck</strong>: Last fall, the Canyon Ranch SpaClub brought an adults-only spa garden with mineral baths, a river reflexology bed, and heated cabanas to the famed Hot Springs. Guests will have access to 28 renovated treatment rooms, plus a menu of exotic-sounding features (trip to the herbal laconium, anyone?), by spring. Last May, the resort launched Allegheny Springs, a 2-acre water park fed by the same mineral springs, which pump 1,700,000 gallons of water each day. <strong>Claim to fame</strong>: Twenty-two U.S. commanders-in-chief have made the pilgrimage, as did Thomas Edison, who not only visited the resort but also helped design its first electric power plant in 1892.
<strong>Resort lore</strong>: The original 1761 bathhouse that welcomed Thomas Jefferson in 1818 stands in near-original condition today. Want proof of the three weeks he spent “taking the waters”? See the guest books marking Jefferson’s stay preserved in The Homestead’s archives. <strong>Signature Style</strong>: The recent riffs on Regency-style interiors— think stripes, cabbage roses, and landscape murals—come courtesy of Richmond’s Beaty & Brown Interior Design, the team behind the renovation of the inn’s Historic Tower and West Wing rooms. <strong>Book this room</strong>: Five themed two-bedroom President’s Suites pay homage to commanders-in-chief who have visited the resort; all have sitting porches and period decor tailored to their namesakes, including oil portraits. Rooms from $175, President’s Suites from $825; thehomestead.com
Grove Park Inn
<strong>Recent nip/tuck</strong>: History is woven into every detail of The Grove Park Inn’s $25 million renovation and restoration (to be finished in 2014). For example, photo- graphs of the Smokies that now hang in the 150 just-renovated Main Inn rooms (the oldest part of the resort) were taken by George Masa, a circa-1915 Grove Park Inn bellman-turned-photographer and Appalachian trail scout. On the to-do list: an overhaul of the iconic Great Hall (known for its 14-foot-wide granite fireplaces) to encourage old-fashioned lounging—think warmer lighting and no more TVs. <strong>Claim to fame</strong>: 10 U.S. Presidents have visited, including Barack Obama in 2010 <strong>Signature Style</strong>: Famed Arts and Crafts company Roycroft supplied most of the inn’s original furnishings— including 400 oak dining chairs. The current collection of Arts and Crafts furniture and fixtures is valued at a whopping $4.5 million.
Grove Park Inn
<strong>Resort Lore</strong>: Apparitions of a woman in a pink flowing gown are attributed to thePink Lady, the ghost of a guest said to have fallen to her death in the inn’s Palm Court in the 1920s. <strong>Book this room</strong>: Literature lovers take note: Author F. Scott Fitzgerald holed up in rooms 441 and 443 in the summers of 1935 and 1936 while his wife, Zelda, was in a nearby hospital. Rooms from $279; <a href="http://www.groveparkinn.com">groveparkinn.com</a>
The Breakers Palm Beach
<strong>Recent nip/tuck</strong>: The resort’s five-year, $80 million guest room redesign (completed in November 2011) features soft, coastal-inspired colors (sand, slate), natural materials (bamboo, rattan), and black-and-white photos of the island. The addition of a boutique by Lilly Pulitzer—practically the patron saint of Palm Beach—and the arrival of HMF, a new cocktail bar by famed restaurant designer Adam Tihany, play up the classic-contemporary balance. <strong>Claim to fame</strong>: There’s no official record, but at least six U.S. Presidents have stayed here. More recently, a slew of celebrity weddings have upped the star factor with guest lists including Cameron Diaz and Elton John.
The Breakers Palm Beach
<strong>Resort lore</strong>: The Breakers served the American war effort in the 1940s, becoming the U.S. Army’s Ream General Hospital, hosting thousands of recuperating soldiers from 1942 to 1944. <strong>Signature Style</strong>: A veritable encyclopedia of Italian Renaissance architecture, the resort has a facade modeled after Rome’s Villa Medici, a fountain in the style of those at Florence’s Boboli Gardens, a lobby inspired by Genoa’s Palazzo Carrega, and hand-painted ceilings that took 73 Florentine artists.
<strong>Book this room</strong>: For the best value on some of the resort’s grandest options (personal concierge and private balconies), book an Ocean Front Junior Suite. Rooms from $550, Ocean Front Junior Suites from $625; <a href="http://www.thebreakers.com">thebreakers.com</a>